Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam! Being a first-timer to Ho Chi Minh, you can simply just have all your activities done in District 1 (downtown). Book your hotel there and you can basically shop, eat and chill within District 1.
#1 Travel out of the airport via an authorised Taxi
Don’t simply flag and take any taxi on the streets! We highly recommend you to take only from brands of Vinasun or Ma Linh (as pictured below!). Most of their fleet are using Toyota Innova or Toyota Vios.
Here is a taxi which you might not want to take.
We once took a taxi out of these 2 brands and the meter jumped extremely fast. We were shocked but also learnt a lesson.
As usual, take taxis which are roaming/cruising around, not one waiting outside the attraction waiting and calling for you.
#2 Visit Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is a good place to visit for first-timers. It is one of Saigon’s oldest landmarks and you can find almost everything in this market from local handicrafts, souvenirs, clothes, fruits, nuts, etc.
The market is big and humid. There is no air conditioning inside so you probably won’t be staying long too unless you are a serious purchaser here. Although we recommend you to visit Ben Thanh Market, we won’t actually recommend you buying here unless you are ready to bargain.
They even have a night version once it turns dark.
#3 Dine at hipster Ben Thanh Street Food Market
Most tourists won’t really dare to try local street food unless you are adventurous or a foodie. This street food market was established in 2015, bringing together different Vietnam food together for you to dine comfortably.
They might not have the best food but at least it brings you one step closer to trying Vietnamese food in clean comfort.
#4 Eat authentic and affordable Vietnam food near Ben Thanh Market
Located just opposite Ben Thanh Market, Thanh Binh was recommended by our Vietnam friend. It’s a restaurant which many of us would just walk past and not know about it.
As we enter the shop, it was filled with locals during lunch time. This time, the food must be good and authentic!
Indeed it was. This noodle soup with crab and prawn was so good, it’s a must-order!
We also managed to try other Vietnamese food and we were happy to know of a new place for authentic and affordable food in a clean environment.
#5 Satisfy your sweet tooth at French Bakery – Une Journée à Paris
Une Journée à Paris is also located opposite Ben Thanh Market and just a few 3 minutes walk away from Thanh Binh.
They have really good pastries here and this place is good to visit for breakfast, lunch and tea. The owner is a Frenchman, so you can be assured of the quality here.
#6 Have coffee at The Cafe Apartment
As you walk along Saigon Walking Street, don’t miss out these unique apartments. Prior to 2015, it was an apartment filled with residents. Many of them have since converted to coffee/tea house and hence, this place was unofficially named as “The Cafe Apartment”.
We heard that it was illegal to have it converted to a commercial space as the building wasn’t designed for such activities. So, do visit before they make any changes to it!
You have to pay VND3000/pax if you were to take the escalator. Alternatively, you can climb up/down the stairs. We paid the fee and went up to the highest level, supposedly also offering the best view!
Here we are on the highest floor, visiting one cafe called Boo Coffee.
We ordered some drinks and thereafter, enjoying the view here.
#7 Have brunch at L’usine
Tired of the traditional Vietnam lifestyle and want something more hipster? Check out L’usine, a boutique cafe popular with young locals and expats.
Apart from good brunch and coffee, it’s also a good space if you are looking for somewhere nice to do some work on your laptop.
#8 Get to try all kinds of Vietnam food at Quan An Ngon 138
Quan An Ngon 138 is like Saigon’s “Marche”. You can try different kinds of Vietnamese food from the different vendors, brought together into one central location.
They might not have the best food overall but it’s one of those places where you can try everything you wanted, in comfort.
We went for the simple Chicken Pho and Cơm tấm (broken rice) with pork chop.
#9 Eat Cantonese food at San Fu Lou
San Fu Lou was one of the restaurants which provided us with a very memorable meal in Ho Chi Minh. Surprising, but perhaps it’s due to the fact that I’m a Cantonese.
We tried their Fried Ee-Fu Noodles, Duck & Wanton Noodles and some Dim Sum. It was really good!
#10 Have a taste of Japan at Tokyo Deli
Want to try something different? How about Japanese cuisine? Tokyo Deli is one of those uprising Japanese restaurants in Ho Chi Minh.
We tried several items and they were quite decent. It is perhaps very good for Vietnam standards but having been to Japan myself, it’s very hard to me to give a verdict.
#11 Drink Vietnam coffee at Trung Nguyen Legend!
Trung Nguyen is a popular coffee brand in Vietnam. It shouldn’t be unfamiliar because you would have seen them selling 3-in-1 Vietnam Coffee packages. Their cafe has definitely gone up-market since my last visit to Ho Chi Minh and it’s now so premium.
We recommend you to go for their hot drip-coffee for a truly authentic Vietnam coffee experience!
#12 Cheap shopping at Saigon Square
This is probably like the mini version of Bangkok’s Platinum Fashion Mall. In Ho Chi Minh, they have several outlets of Saigon Square but the main one was the only one worth visiting, that is if you are looking for some cheap deals.
Over here, you can find cheap branded stuff such as Under Armour and Sketchers. Since many of their manufacturing is from Vietnam too, it’s hard to say if it’s original or fake. But it could highly be rejected goods.
#13 Have a full body massage at May Spa
It may not look like a posh spa, but this is an affordable spa offering really good quality massage. We went there almost every night for a body massage because it’s so good! They even threw in a free hot-stone massage even though we chose the normal full body massage. A good place to relax after a long day of touring around.
#14 Have a quality Foot Massage
Not into full body massages? Then head to Professional Foot Massage, where they specialise in only foot massage!
#15 Go out for a half-day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels
Get to learn about the history of the Vietnam war and discover the hidden underground world of Vietnam’s complicated network of tunnels. You will be amazed at how the residents lived in there for years. If you a small body frame, you can easily enter the tunnels and experience how was it like living in there.
You also get the discover the various traps used in the Vietnam war.
If you think that we missed out some attractions, feel free to drop us an email!